leadership dot #2883: virtual

Have you noticed lately that people are using the words “virtual,” “online” and “remote” interchangeably? I’ve been asked to do a virtual keynote and people talk about classes converting to online learning when what they really mean is content delivered remotely.

 

“Virtual” means not real – it’s the avatar and fantasy world that is created in games and with graphics – virtual reality. “Online” has different connotations as well, where something is available via the web at any time you want to access it – I could record a webinar and have it online for years. But what most people want is remote work where the facilitator delivers live content via technology – whether that be a keynote, meeting or class.

I think the distinction in language is important because it shapes the expectations for the experience, the audience engagement and the pricing. If students see themselves enrolled in an online class, they expect it to cost less than live instruction and I suspect they put less effort into it. On the other hand, a class delivered remotely – where all are present at the same time and the teacher can interact with everyone delivers an experience much closer to in-person and requires as much (if not more) preparation by the instructor. The same is true of meetings: a virtual meeting doesn’t conjure up the same expectations for preparation and participation as framing the use of Zoom as a live meeting delivered remotely.

Content that is created for use in a synchronous setting – whether delivered live or remotely – isn’t virtual. It’s real and has the potential to generate great discussions, ideas and additional content when done well.

Language matters. Let’s leave the virtual environment to the gamers and avatars and focus our energy on creating the best content we can, even if we have to deliver it from afar.

leadership dot #2880: peak

By definition, in order to have a peak, you need to have a downside. Without it, the graph would be flat or the landscape just a rolling hill.

Too often, people have this image of the peak in their mind and may even consider the climb to get there, but they overlook the journey down. In the office environment, this may manifest itself as a letdown after the big push on a project or a void to fill following achievement of a quota. Personally, it could show up as a regression on health or fitness goals after running that marathon or reaching the desired weight. You could experience it as the post-holiday or post-graduation blues when the buzz ends and everything feels ordinary.

Keep climbing that mountain and pushing the graph upwards – and keep in mind that if you reach a peak, the only way to go (at least temporarily) is down.

leadership dot #2877: mud

Those new to a position are often so eager to impress others that they fail to ask for help until it’s too late. It’s easy to believe that things “will get better” but they rarely do on their own. And “figuring it out” isn’t a great strategy either – if you knew how to do something or act, you would have done it already. As a result, what I see time and time again is that people flounder until they have dug themselves into a hole that is nearly impossible to dig out of.

The key to getting out of trouble as a new leader is staying out of trouble. Intentionally setting your expectations and cultivating a culture from the get-go instead of letting one emerge by default. Asking for help from the start. Paying for coaching on your own if necessary. Seeking out feedback from all sides (above, peers, supervisees) and making course corrections early in your tenure. Making time for personal reflection and learning from missteps as well as triumphs.

But the idea of staying ahead of the game applies in so many areas beyond supervision. It’s easier to maintain your health/mental health than to reclaim it. Easier to reach out to others and sustain relationships than to repair a broken one. Far better to curb spending and stay out of debt than to dig out after overspending. Easier to succeed if you work on your weight when you have a little to lose instead of a lot.

Once you are covered in figurative mud – from any malady – your initial investment of time and effort is diverted to first be to remove the mud before you can make any progress forward. So, if you’re sensing warning signs that things aren’t trending in your favor, ask for help right then. It’s much easier to let others keep you out of the hole instead of requiring them to dig you out of it later.

leadership dot #2876: clock building

Are you a clock builder or time teller?

In the book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras outline the difference between the two: Having a great idea or being a charismatic leader is “time telling” but building a company that can last beyond any one person is “clock building.” It’s the difference between the realization of a great idea or the creation of a system that lives on for much longer than a single episode.

It is so tempting to be a time teller. You can have a great idea (or several), implement them and bask in the glory. Clock building is grunt work, often behind-the-scenes and you may or may not be around to realize its impact. But, and here’s the rub, it’s clock building that makes programs, systems and companies “built to last.”

The difference is often pronounced with new employees who want to make their mark. I remember a situation where one of my staff wanted to spend his time developing a whole variety of programs for college students – rather than creating the process, documentation and system for others who came after him to be able to do so. Doing the actual events was far more fun; creating a methodology was far more impactful.

As a supervisor, you need to be clear with your staff members what you are seeking from them: time telling or clock building. They have radically different timeframes and outcomes so it’s important to outline expectations and rewards. And if you’re the leader yourself, you need to keep your eye on the clock building prize, spending your time and energy on the infrastructure and long term (even now when just time telling can be challenging). Individually we like to be the ones who can tell time but remember that a clock maker made it possible for all of us to do.

Source:  Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 1994, p. 22-23

leadership dot #2875: like us

I handwrote 100 postcards for a grassroots political movement to help get out the vote in Wisconsin’s recent primary. They did not support any particular candidate but encouraged voting in the primary as a proven way to increase voter turnout in the general election.

After much research, the organizers landed on this as the most effective message in their testing: Dear (Name), Thank you for being a previous voter! Who you vote for is secret, but whether you vote is public information. Vote Tuesday, April 7th.” That was it. They determined that social pressure is twice as effective at increasing voter turnout, or, as thought leader Seth Godin would say: “People like us do things like this.”

The same theory rang a bell when I was watching a PBS special. The show was sponsored by a list of foundations “and viewers like you.” It wasn’t only the wealthy that donated to PBS – their wording implied a social nudge that I should do the same.

How can you encourage the action of your audience by adding in an element of social pressure? People like us fill out their expense reports with integrity and timeliness. People like us help restaurants by getting takeout during the virus. People like us become active participants in our community. People like us put hearts in their window to show support to essential workers. People like us donate blood. People like us shop at thrift stores to help the environment. The possibilities are endless.

Instead of framing your message to talk about the benefits of the behavior, add in an inference that others are doing the action you seek. Ever since grade school we’ve worked hard to fit in. Leverage that desire to achieve some good.

leadership dot #2849 A or B

Author Dan Heath provided advice on the type of feedback that was most helpful to him as he shared drafts of his books. Instead of asking for “global feedback” – for example, asking what early readers thought or how the structure was framed – he found it more productive to ask for comments on specific aspects of the book.

He likened feedback to a consumer being asked about what beer they like – it’s often hard for them to articulate. But when asked whether they like Beer A or Beer B better, people almost always instantly have a firm opinion.

Heath recommends framing your feedback questions in terms of whether people like A or B. In book terms this could translate to asking whether a specific story conveyed the point of the chapter effectively or whether the reader found a specific concept useful. Asking these types of questions – and asking them early enough in the process so you can actually use the information before you become too invested in what you have developed – has worked best for him.

Think of how you can adopt this method of inquiry to feedback that you need to receive. It can be on simple matters – instead of asking “What would you like for a snack?” instead you could ask “Would you rather have walnuts or candy?”. On work projects, you can provide an outline and ask for their opinion if section A should be before or after B. When asking someone to critique your website you may ask if the navigation button should be on the bottom or left.

Heath said that “you may get answers to meta-terms but you can’t trust them because people don’t have the language to describe” what they actually feel or mean. Especially when much of our feedback is coming remotely where we can’t pick up on body language nuances, strive to remove the vagueness and frame your requests in terms that can prove to be truly helpful.

Source: Dan Heath in So you want to write a book podcast

leadership dot #2844: score

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the musical score in a movie shapes your response to what you are seeing in the film. If the sound is scary, you’re more likely to see and feel some sense of danger or impending dread. If the music is uplifting, you’ll anticipate a positive outcome and look for signs of happiness.

I often wonder what real life would be like if it came with a musical score. Would we be more cautious when driving if all of a sudden the bass tones started and the music became ominous? Could a hypothetical score of trumpets during our isolation serve to lighten our mood?

While our life’s journey doesn’t come with audible accompaniment, we can utilize our minds to shape our own reaction to life’s events. If we allow a dark cloud to follow us, we shape our response to everything we see. If we take on a more positive persona, it, too, will shape our world.

Pay attention to the “score” you let your thoughts create. Whether through utilizing actual music or through mental modeling, let the background soundtrack of your life today add to your environment instead of depressing it.

leadership dot #2608: detours

On a recent trip out of town, I encountered three fairly major detours where the entire road was closed and we were detoured around for miles on a different road. The route was marked and I was confident that I would end up in approximately the same place but it was still unsettling to be on a strange road at the mercy of DOT signage.

During “construction season” (as the summer is lovingly called in the Midwest), we should come to expect detours and anticipate them as a natural part of travel; nonetheless, they still cause frustration, uncertainty and delays.

I think of the parallel with people on the change journey. They, too, should prepare to encounter detours en route to their goals but unlike with the roads, there are no signs or known endings. Detours during the change process are vague, unmarked and often set people back instead of moving them forward.

In both situations, taking the detour may still be the best way to arrive at the chosen destination. While you can’t avoid detours, it may help to expect to have your plans follow a circuitous route – whether literally or metaphorically – as you traverse on your journey.

leadership dot #2582: set limits

The next time you’re driving down the highway, pay close attention to the row of power poles that line the road. Chances are that you will see a barrier midway up the pole — something that you probably never noticed before but once you see it, you’ll be attuned to them everywhere.

These metal or plastic rings are animal guards, designed to keep squirrels, cats and raccoons from climbing up the pole and causing damage to the electrical wires. Animals trigger over 10% of the power outages across the nation (who knew!?) and so animal mitigation is serious business in the utility industry.

Barriers must be far enough off the ground to keep the animals from jumping over them and long enough so the animals are unable to gain traction when they reach the deterrent, but just wrapping the pole is a simple yet effective way to keep the wires atop it safe.

If only organizations provided such clarity as to where the limits are!

Think of the kind of pole wrap you should deploy in your organization – a self-policing tool that establishes boundaries for employees. By clearly delineating where the parameters are, it allows employees autonomy in other areas and frees the supervisor from continual monitoring. Clarity also protects the employee from getting “zapped” through ignorance.

Squirrel barriers are important components of utility poles — a minor investment that can reduce actions with more serious consequences. Organizations would be well served to model this practice.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #2459: lunk

In the Planet Fitness gyms, there is a prominent Lunk Alarm that others can set off if a lunk is spotted in the facility. A lunk, as they define it, is one who grunts, drops weights or judges. It is a good-humored attempt to keep the atmosphere light and maintain “a judgment free zone” for all the participants.

Wouldn’t it be nice if offices, stores and other establishments had an equivalent “lunk alarm” to ward off those who may be condescending or judgmental toward others? Instead of letting insidious behavior go unchecked there would be a public way to proclaim that it was unwelcome.

Without putting a giant alarm bell on your wall, think about what you can do to establish norms of respect in your setting. Can you develop a shared language that allows you to call someone out without drama? Is there a ritual or motion you can easily perform that sends the same message? How clear are you about expectations when you onboard or review employees?

I doubt the lunk alarm is sounded often – mostly because it is there in the first place. Be proactive in communicating your expectations before they cause the warning bells to ring.